photo of projects

5th Grade Social Studies Gets Creative

If you walked through the halls of Granville Elementary in the past month, you probably would have noticed a collection of artifacts outside the nurse’s office. Those projects were created by fifth grade elementary teacher Maureen Bishop’s students, and they’re helping other curious students learn about what’s happening inside the classroom.

“I wanted to help my students create something that brought our textbook to life,” said Mrs. Bishop. “Not every lesson plan needs to end with a test. Allowing for creative, hands-on projects can leave a lasting impression with our students.”

Fifth graders spent the past month learning about Native American tribes throughout North America, with each of the four lesson plans focusing on a different region of the continent. To help students connect better with the course work, Mrs. Bishop presented options that included giving students the opportunity to explore their creative side and construct models of Native American artifacts or structures.

“It’s one thing to see examples of the history we’re studying in our textbooks, but being able to build something at home helps bring appreciation to the material we’re learning.”

Each student was tasked with following a rubric that provided guidelines for their project. For example, students were responsible for identifying the tribe that their artifact was modeled after, why they used the materials included with the model, and what purpose their artifact or structure served to the tribe.

While these projects are unique to the fifth grade curriculum, the rubric isn’t. The social studies rubric is based largely on similar style guides the students used in the fourth grade.

“Course work will always change and become more difficult from grade to grade, but I want to make sure I’m reinforcing lessons our students have learned in other classrooms,” said Mrs. Bishop. “If we’re giving our students opportunities to reflect on lessons they’ve already participated in, we have a better chance of setting them up for success as they climb through grade levels in our district.”

This project isn’t all about creative skills. It also ties in lessons from the fifth grade English language arts classes by asking the students to write a short essay about the meaning of the piece. It’s graded on basic components as much as it is creativity, with basic writing mechanics and factual descriptions making up part of the final grade.

Students are also given a self-evaluation sheet to fill out at the end of the assignment. It asks students to think critically about what they have accomplished, and asks for input on each part of the finished product: the objects created, if the structure is strong and sturdy, if the written text accomplishes all the objectives established in the rubric, and the proper use of materials.

“The self-evaluation makes the students feel like they’re part of the grading process,” said Mrs. Bishop. “It also helps everyone understand the principles of the assignment because they have to grade themselves to the same standards I grade them on. It encourages students to go back and make sure they haven’t missed an aspect of the project before handing it in.”

Mrs. Bishop also saves some projects that students from previous years completed to use as examples.

“It’s like having a chance to pass down the history of my class from one grade to another. It’s the true sense of a living history of our social studies curriculum.”

While traditional tests are important and used throughout the school year, Mrs. Bishop doesn’t want her class to feel like they’re learning to answer questions on a test. She hopes these student-created projects leave a lasting impression that her class will be able to reflect on as they get older.

“You probably don’t remember the answers to a test you took while you were in school, but I know you can remember some of the projects you got to make with your own hands. I hope my students will be able to reflect on these projects and create a connection to the material we were learning through that.”